Rashid Johnson’s Stage is the first iteration of the newly launched “PS1 COURTYARD: an experiment in creative ecologies,” a year-long program reimagining MoMA PS1's outdoor courtyard. A participatory installation and sound work, Stage riffs on the history of the microphone as a tool for protest and oratory, recalling hubs of public life such as London’s Hyde Park and Harlem’s 135th and Lenox Avenue, known as the “Crossroads of the Black World.” Five SM58 microphones—an iconic vocal tool since its introduction in the 1966, used by such luminaries as Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—are arrayed around a raised yellow platform, inviting visitors to speak extemporaneously, and setting the stage for a scheduled program of performances. These statements are then recorded and rebroadcast, reverberating through the courtyard at intervals.
It won’t escape anybody that Stage was installed amidst a global pandemic; teeming crowds gathered around speakers at lecterns won’t be reproduced here anytime soon. Yet, in a way, Stage is a natural stop in that lineage. Organizing today—as seen in the mass protests that continue to sweep this country—is taking place not on the street corner but on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter: a democratizing and leveling phenomenon, even as it is also a necessary safety precaution.
Installation view of Stage by Rashid Johnson, on view at MoMA PS1, New York. Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus